RAVE: June Releases + Collected Thoughts

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To say that this month is exhausting is an understatement. Perhaps on the upside, this is strictly physiological, as my workload was doubled (even tripled at times) for the entire month and now it’s over and next week, things will resume to normal. I cannot contain my happiness. I’m just glad that the stress didn’t really take a toll on my body, and if there’s anything to thank for that, it’s because of the constant stream of support from my friends (how I just want to hug each and everyone of you – eagerly) and finding ways of not to exacerbate the strain in my brain by just eating loads of sugary food, subs, and just yesterday, I had five plates’ worth of breakfast (no shame).

But more than that, it’s music. Most of the time, friends and music go hand in hand, whether or not I go to gigs (where we are able to personally exchange new tracks and mush and gush over the latest release by this or that artist), we do so online. Sometimes, I go on an incessant rant how I want to perfect my playlist this month just so I won’t break down. Without me intending it, I leaned towards SoundCloud (more than usual) and Majestic Casual’s YouTube channel, daily recommendations from various music websites, and links sent by friends over Facebook. Safe to say, I breezed through this month when it comes to music.

The songs listed below are the best ones I’ve heard this month. There sure are plenty of others not included here, but that’s just my bum memory failing me right now. Most of these were released during the latter part of June, excluding some of the live performances of new songs from my favorite local bands. These are largely laidback; none of the heavy, alternative rock music for now (I was really gunning for less adrenaline, stress deterrent sort of music). Enjoy.

Surf’ – Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment

The album was dropped on May 29, but I wasn’t able to dissect this properly, not that it needed a complex assessment to begin with. Not to imply that it was shallow, but with Chance The Rapper (forgive me for putting emphasis on him) taking a step back on his solo endeavors, but focusing more on his collective of jazzy, brassy, and groovy colleagues does say a lot about his character not just as a musician, but as a whole. Focusing on his musicianship, on the other hand, brings out the best of his capabilities, which ripple throughout this collaboration, with other like-minded artists like Towkio (who also released his .wav Theory album a month prior) and Vic Mensa. Favorite cuts are ‘Caretaker’, ‘Wanna Be Cool’, ‘Warm Enough’, and the feel-good – both aurally and visually –  ‘Sunday Candy’.

‘Clay’ – HANA

Vouched by Lana Del Rey and Grimes (which is how I found out about her), this song has been on a perpetual loop since the day I listened to it, to the point of convincing my friends to listen to her. With a combination of supple and saccharine vocals tendered against a hook-ridden synth pop arrangement, you’ll see why it’s not hard to listen to it over and over again.

‘100’ – Drake and The Game

The phrase, ‘multi-layered artists’ (last heard from Drake’s ad for Sprite’s “Obey Your Thirst” campaign), or even just the word ‘artist’ itself seems to be rather thrown around loosely these days, and people are almost always referencing to the legends from the past century. Any claim that a person alive today who has made an overwhelming impact on music and arts as a whole is perpetually questioned, especially when it comes to hiphop and rap music. Ironically, the social and political relevance of artists to herald change, not just as benchmarks of success and beyond their celebrity status, is important to us all and the current conditions that we live in. Post-To Pimp A Butterfly’s effectwhich pushes not just the hiphop ante, but artistry in general, we need more songs that entrenches truth, fame, and trust – essentially, life itself, stripped and bare to its core.

via Revolt TV

‘Love Of My Life’ (Picnic Opus) – Erykah Badu and The Roots

Seeing both those names in a Pitchfork article two days ago immediately prompted me to abandon my pancakes for a while and savor every moment of this video – all 17 minutes of it – whether it’s Her OG-ness Miss Badu rolling around on a Phunkee Duck; YG, Freeway, and The Lox sharing the stage; or a medley of hiphop classics including the Roots’ “Act Too (Love of My Life)”, Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”, Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.”, Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”, Nas’ “Made You Look” Beanie Sigel and Freeway’s “Roc the Mic”, the Lox’s “Money, Power, Respect” – it’s just a glorious performance that makes my heart swell with joy.

‘No Sleeep’ – Janet Jackson

Seven years is too long a time, so when word got out that Janet Jackson was releasing new music, there’s a collective heave that echoed online, awaiting for the follow-up to 2008’s electronic-heavy Discipline. Her latest single, the languidly sultry ‘No Sleeep’ (I’m not sure what’s the story behind the three e’s, not that it’s the focal point) that echoes her early work, most prominently, 1997’s The Velvet Rope, a sexual awakening of all sorts and salaciously empowering for women everywhere. It embraces every inch of pleasure and yearning, the connection between carnal and cerebral, furtively arousing (complementing the idea of insomnia) the senses in a graceful, inimitable fashion of which she was known for.

‘Secret Affair’ and ‘Girl’ (f/ Kaytranada) – The Internet

I’m not sure whether it’s simply coincidental, but I firmly believe that these two songs are well-connected to each other. The former is a broody, bass-heavy number that’s part accusatory, part inauspiciously coddling; whereas the latter tones down, but with added sparse airiness in it. Lyrics-wise, it’s assuring and affirming, as if the diminished self-worth absent in ‘Secret Affair’ reemerges in ‘Girl’.

Maybe the two songs are entirely different in context when it was conceptualized, but it’s just interesting to listen to them back to back and piecing them together. Regardless, the production is consistently good. My only nitpick though is that, it sounds too complacent that in the long term,it might be vapid if the group capitalizes solely on Syd’s voice (though effortlessly effectual) as forefront and not as an adjunctive element to the wholeness of their sound.

Toro y Moi

Everything I know about Chaz Bundick’s projects – whether as Toro y Moi or Les Sins – is almost moot after I listened to these latest releases. Although I wouldn’t say that he’s treading different waters now, he’s definitely straying (or maybe transitioning or morphing into an altogether different sound, not sure) from the recently released What For? and if anything, sounds more like 2013’s Anything In Return. But, as Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen pointed out, to call it a return to his roots is “accurate and fairly misleading.” It seems like, we’re all under the allusion of something because of our failed attempts to pinpoint what exactly is now happening with Toro y Moi, although I can’t say for sure if that’s a bad thing.

These two tracks are definitely not what I expect from him. It sounds like a hybrid of what he’s previously done as Toro y Moi and has been injected with a low-key electronic approach from his Les Sins catalogue. I’m still kinda confused.

‘On Top’ – Marc E. Bassy

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You read it from Kendrick Lamar himself.

‘Can’t Let You’ – Chasley Lussier

Sensual and playful R&B will never ever be dated. Whether it’s borrowing from the golden era of the late ’80s and the entire ’90s, its modern-day sound has never been truly compromised, only perpetuated. Dripping with incontrovertible suave and kink, the production’s proclivity towards sex is equal parts tasteful (Rhye) and salacious (R. Kelly), one that can easily rank among the harbinger of foreplay, Miguel and The Weeknd.

Just saying.

‘Torment’ – Spooky Black

This track feels like its forged out of Full Crate and Mar’s ‘Man x Woman’, Vic Mensa’s ‘Down On My Luck’, and Sampha’s ‘Indecision’, an archetype of all the aforementioned songs’ elements. It is somewhat chilling whenever I listen to ‘Torment’, how strangely familiar it sounds, like it has no attempt to impress, but just to comfortably fit in among the things that already caught your attention and just sit at the back of your mind.

Tom Misch

His music is the epitome of my fondness for Majestic Casual. He has this way of effectively fusing traditional instruments with electronic music, ensuring that beyond the skittering beats, coy synths, and catchy hooks, there’s still an affectionate quality that simmers just enough on the surface and not buried beneath layers of mechanical work. It’s comparatively similar to a feeling of surrendering yourself to a soft mattress or couch, the cold wind softly billowing in the open space you’re about to fall asleep on, and just dream.

‘Songs To Make Up To’ – Ta-Ku

Easily interchangeable with a fair suggested title, Songs To Make Out To, Ta-Ku’s follow-up to Songs To Break Up To can be addressed as a culmination of all the unresolved feelings, a closure of sort.

I’m sorry if I will be technical in this, but as I noticed with the artwork on its predecessor, which are filled with flower buds, the latest offering’s artwork features flowers in full bloom, which, to my interpretation, means that the relationship is in upswing, but it gives me an impression that it may or may not be the same person he’s involved with before, but a new one. I may be reading to much into it, but it’s just too lovely not to have a beautiful meaning behind it.

I don’t want to pick bones here, but I’m rather disappointed that the bonus track, ‘Down For You’ which features Alina Baraz on vocals, is only available on Spotify.

The reason why I’m bummed is that this girl’s voice is so ethereal, so sinfully sweet that you can almost taste it – just not on the album available on iTunes and Bandcamp.

‘Slow’ – Jensen and the Flips

Denoting the title for their newest single, the accompanying visuals for Jensen and the Flips’ ‘Slow’ is a playful interpretation on the song, a sequence of takes featuring the member slapping each other, batting fruits, Pete Townshend-ing an acoustic guitar, and frolicking around in slow motion, among other things.

I’m not sure what it is with things shot five, ten times slower that appeal to us or why we derive satisfaction from watching it. But bottomline is, there’s nothing to overthink here, but just have fun watching and shimmying to it.

You can download the song for free on Amplify.ph.

‘Profanities’ – Sud

Barring any personal bias (my relationship with this song hasn’t reached saturation point so much that it has been my alarm tone for several months now, though not always effective), I am glad that I can justify my affection for it.

There’s the strikingly bright color grading and its great sense of respite – surely, not all of our lives are all play, but it is a light-hearted reminder that it is possible to live a little and there’s nothing wrong with, say, putting booze in a saxophone once in a while. It might be a song about being at a loss for words, specifically that of non-expletive nature, after seeing someone who looks like they just stole your lungs but still, your skin feels hot and leaves your mouth dry; but I believe profanities are also uttered during reckless abandon – when you just do things because, why not? Fuck it.

‘Last Kiss’ – OverDoz. f/ Pharrell Williams

Ever prolific and stunningly stellar, His Coolness Pharrell Williams lent a hand to Los Angeles four-piece rap collective, OverDoz. for their cheeky and funky, ’90s-style hiphop and R&B jam, ‘Last Kiss’.

Let me just briefly touch on the topic of collectives, especially now that Odd Future has inadvertently split. OFWGKTA is arguably the most popular collective from the West Coast. Top Dawg Entertainment’s Black Hippy, on the other hand, obliterates everyone within a far-reaching radius, period. There’s also East Coast’s Pro Era, A$AP Mob, Flatbush Zombies, and many others. All of these collectives and groups bring something distinctly different to the table, a thriving tradition from the days of Wu-Tang Clan and G.O.O.D Music, among others. But it was only this week that I heard of OverDoz, which reminds me quite vividly of the now-defunct Odd Future.

The song and video has Pharrell all over it, accompanied with a motley of bright colors, and Kent Jamz’s vocals vaguely reminds me of Kendrick Lamar’s – organic California hiphop sound at best.

‘The Beyond/Where The Giant Roams EP’ – Thundercat

Massively haunting and erudite even at its wordless moments, Thundercat’s EP is soulfully rich and an impressive display of skill – not that he still needs to prove it. I wish I can articulate everything I feel about this, but then I’m afraid that my words will fall short. I refuse to take anything away from this brilliant album and only wish that you can understand why it has a profound effect on me.

BONUS:

Lane Switch (prod. RASCAL)’ – Little Simz

Don’t sleep on this kid.

RAVE: ‘Pictures on Silence’ – Atu

Atu - Pictures on Silence - cover

I love kissing. If I could kiss all day, I would. I can’t stop thinking about kissing. I like kissing more than sex because there’s no end to it. You can kiss forever. You can kiss yourself into oblivion. You can kiss all over the body. You can kiss yourself to sleep. And when you wake up, you can’t stop thinking about kissing. Dammit, I can’t get anything done because I’m so busy thinking about kissing. Kissing is madness! But it’s absolute paradise, if you can find a good kisser.

– Sufjan Stevens

RAVE: ‘Cherry Bomb’ – Tyler, The Creator

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First impressions: abrasive, sonically generous, and – wait for it – sweet. On the (shallow) surface, it’s industrial – typical Tyler anarchy reminiscent of Goblin (2011). But all the brash production, hard-hitting verses, and maniacal visuals (save maybe for “She,” which features Frank Ocean) that came with the Odd Future ringleader’s debut are still there, but in traces. If anything, Cherry Bomb sounded like the consummation of his past works, Wolf (2013) included. His sophomore album was a transition, and forgive me for this analogy, but it’s like Wolverine in the process of adamantium bonding into his body. If there’s a personification of the idiom, “Don’t let your mouth write checks your ass can’t cash,” then Tyler embodies it fully.

To be honest, I’m typing this as I listen to the album and will listen to it again with my undivided attention. But phrases and thoughts kept popping out of my mind that I had to write them down. One moment, you’ll hear serrated Death Grips noise, the next, it’s jazz, slow-dancing music. Tyler was not kidding when he mentioned his influences while working on this album, and it’s hard not to miss those embedded sound, with assistance from Chaz Bundick (Toro Y Moi/Les Sins), Charlie Wilson, and Cole Alexander (The Black Lips).

I’ve noticed that most tracks are like miniature collages of sound, shifting slightly or drastically in mood. Most of the first halves begin heavy and then wind down to smooth, The Internet-esque vibe. This kind of exploration leads me to believe that this is Tyler, The Creator’s finest record so far. I cannot help but think the parallelism between Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and Tyler’s Cherry Bomb when it comes to the title. It conveys contrasts, a songwriting trick – I’ve learned (but also not uncommon when writing poetry – I have maybe abused this a couple of times). Like two sides to a coin, cherry and bomb are polar opposites when it comes to utility, not just in nature. I might be going out on a limb here, but I really don’t care. I’m ecstatic, I’m on fire.

And oh, did you catch that Drake sample on “2SEATER?”

See? Lots of things to enjoy in this album.

I’ve also streamed his 45-minute Coachella set earlier today. Worth your time, I’m telling you.

Cherry Bomb is now available on iTunes.

Abolition, Imaginary Smoke

Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Tomorrow is Kurt Cobain’s 21st death anniversary. I have unintentionally abstained from listening to Nirvana for quite a while, as an avalanche of new hiphop albums made its way to my music library and even then I haven’t exhausted everything. I find myself winding back to Nevermind (and skipping ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, as if I would be reprimanded by the ghost of Cobain for playing the song that propelled them to rock history, the song he loathed so much). I’d go straight to the last track, ‘Something In The Way’, the most subdued – lyrically and melodically – cut from the record. 

I am typing this right now in our patio, with a glass of Jack Daniels and Coke on the side of the table. I get up every now and then to replenish ice cubes from the freezer. It’s colder here than inside the house, which feels suffocating if it weren’t for the electric fans and A/C. It’s also awfully quiet, save for the muffled sound crickets make, the tinkling of the ice, and me tapping on my laptop’s keyboard. I just took a shower (the second time today), my hair still wrapped in a towel. I put an old, ratty T-shirt on that’s two layers thinner from whenever it was bought. 

I’ve been simultaneously reading a few pages of William S. Borroughs’ Junky (the title says it all) while revisiting some of my pharmacology and neurology notes to reacquaint myself with the physiologic and psychologic effects of heroin. It seems rather cosmic that I’ve found and bought this book right after I finished reading James Gavin’s Deep In A Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker, a biography of the highly romanticized jazz icon, whose death (believed as suicide) inevitably followed his decades of self-abuse – his life and music fed by a hypodermic needle.

Right now, for the longest time since writing my thesis five years ago, I long for a cigarette. Just this one time. Despite the smoke, which I abhor, and the trace of nicotine that latches on my fingertips, I would not care right now. I suddenly miss the soft billowing of smoke that unapologetically lingers in the air, until it is no more. I have a vague memory of my fingers flirting with each cigarette until an entire pack is smoldered. 

A phrase suddenly sprung in my head: residual withdrawal syndrome. That sounds stupid. Or maybe phantom cigarette sensation or a retrograde oral fixation episode. Either way, I’ll just finish what volume of liquor I can.

I read that there’s a blood moon tonight. Eclipses don’t fascinate me as much, but the thought makes me smile. Not only do I like how this phenomenon sounds (like a potentially good band name), it’s just significantly apt for some of the bullshit that I want to completely block not just this evening, but for days to come. Until they obliterate by themselves. Right now, I’ll just continue listening to dead men’s music and mull over how they matter more than some living, breathing entities in my life. 

And maybe, I’ll go find a cigarette.

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Assembly Generals’ – Assembly Generals

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Barely a year ago, Assembly Generals rallied the crowd in Cubao X, the first witnesses to perhaps one of the most exciting, most charged acts of 2014 to look forward to: a four-piece electronic hiphop group that is no less punk than any top-billed rock band today. Exciting as it may be, seeing Raymund Marasigan on drums (for Cambio, Basement Lung, and Eraserheads), the man whose wide-ranging credentials almost always dismantles doubts on the quality of music an audience is about to expect, barely scratches the surface underneath. Adding more dimensions to the wholeness of the sound are Mon Punzalan, who’s responsible for manning the MPC, and Flying Ipis vocalist Deng Garcia on Ableton (APC40, to be exact) and vocals. As the only one who wrote lyrics for at least 10 songs after Marasigan and Punzalan sent their beats to a number of rappers, Paolo Toledo – who goes by the moniker “Switch” of local hiphop collective, Miscellaneous – was levied into the group.

The concept of Assembly Generals, according to Switch, is basically what their name suggests. The idea naturally reflected into their music, the camouflage jackets, the cap Switch himself sports during performances, the album design, and most symbolically – into their logo: a chevron insignia shaped into the group’s initials.

Assembly Generals is a self-aware album, an identity that is fully conscious and confident with itself and what it wants to put out there. Although the word ‘fresh’ in this context is relative, the group’s attempt to break out from what most of the local public’s archaic, automatic assumption of hiphop there is – battle rap; freestyle rapping lumped with trunk-heavy beats; thuggish, street-style gangsta rap (our local version would be the jeepney rap) – is daunting. Here, they succeeded into shelving that belief. Certainly, they are not the first one to do it. Most of the hiphop acts in the country belong to a crew, a collective, where putting out releases are done collaboratively in forms of mixtapes, which serve as a form of calling card. Interestingly though, Assembly Generals posits a different idea, which puts emphasis on an individual’s skill as much as it is with the overall result.

More than half of the eight-track record is comprised of high-octane cuts, combining crunk and suave technical merits (“General Assembly,” “Kontrabida”) and the direct, yet also stylish, lyrical rap sensibilities tackling social, touching into political, (“Kontrabida,” “Everyday Concept”) and personal (“Sakalawakan,” “In The Glass”) issues. Deng Garcia’s vocal assistance, whether to punctuate, emphasize, or swag things up, proves invaluable and adds dimension and variation to each song. Mon Punzalan and Raymund Marasigan balance each other, making sure the beats don’t end up robotic and the live drums not overpowering. Meanwhile, the veracity and straightforwardness of Switch’s verses do not come off as stiff and parochial, or even gaudy. In a genre where braggadocio only ultimately suggests Freudian slips, Assembly Generals has none. If there are, they are far too subtle to warrant attention. There’s crunchy wordplay, too, (i.e. UFO = “Unidentified Filipino Object,” “Leave the past in glass / I can’t keep swallowing the past.”) and the two Tagalog songs are poetic at best. Lyrically, the album proves that hiphop does not need to shout expletives or resort to misogyny to get its message across – loud and clear.

The group also enlisted the help of DRIP’s Beng Calma for “Neverland (All Gone)” and Pinoy Stories’ Camoi Miraflor for “Gravity Bound.” The former is spliced with scratches – courtesy of DJ Supreme Fist – and a thespian verse from Calma. The track is consummated with Switch’s assuaging lyrics, making it the most intimate cut from the record. “Gravity Bound,” on the other hand, is a crafty slowburner that opens with a Rey Valera sample colliding into a tantric trap looped throughout the song. The culmination of Assembly Generals is its closing track, “Fire In The Hole” – featuring Skarm, ILL-J, Dash, Tracer One, Godneeks, and Johnny Krush – a number reminiscent of ‘90s coastal rap, a mix of East and West coast swag that kids who grew up listening to LL Cool J, N.W.A, Wu-Tang Clan, Busta Rhymes, and 2Pac, among others, would certainly appreciate – a monumental nod to an era that brought the genre from the streets to mainstream consciousness.

Assembly Generals’ debut is a culmination of work that does not antagonize or parry with non-believers, or one where they tout themselves as messiahs of the local hiphop scene. That title is not one for them to brand for themselves. Not that there is no need for it, as their commendable first album already put them on top of the ranks.

RAVE: Favorite Videos of the Week

I know it’s been a while since I last posted my ‘Rave’ list. Work has caught up and I’ve had a janky body clock for weeks now, juggling gigs, writing, and work. But no complaints there. Not music-related: life’s been pretty good. Relationships are steady. Still have some loose ends though,still awkward with, well, him. Summer is here, but I’m still not acclimated to the humidity outdoors, the tempered coolness at home, and the perennially frigid temperature in the office. So I still get colds and headaches every now and then.

Anyway, try as I might, I’m sure rounding up my favorite tracks for the last couple of weeks is futile. There are plenty of them. So I just decided to list down my favorite videos of recent.